Scientists have identified a protein in the brain that plays a key role in the function of mitochondria the part of the cell that supplies energy, supports cellular activity, and potentially wards off threats from disease. The discovery, which was reported today in the Journal of Cell Biology, may shed new light on how the brain recovers from stroke.
"Understanding the molecular machinery that helps distribute mitochondria to different parts of the cell has only recently begun to be understood," said University of Rochester Medical Center neurologist David Rempe, M.D., Ph.D., the lead author of the study. "We know that in some disease states that mitochondria function is modified, so understanding how their activity is modulated is important to understanding how the brain responds to a pathological state."
Mitochondria are cellular power plants that generate most of the cell's supply of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is used as a source of chemical energy. While mitochondria are present in all of the body's cells, some cells because of their size and purpose need to transport mitochondria to distant sites within the cell to maintain proper function. A prominent example is neurons which have a complex cellular structure that consist of a main cell body and dendrites and axons that project out from the cell core and transmit signals to adjoining cells via synapses at their terminus.
"Neurons are at a disadvantage in terms of their anatomy," said Rempe. "They put out enormous arms of axons and dendrites and they have to keep supplying nutrients and everything down these arms. The supply line is very long."
The supply line includes mitochondria which the cell must also push down the axons and dendrites to provide these parts of the cell with energy, help with the transmission of signals, and generally maintain cellular health. Mitochondria are constantly cycling throughout the neuron. Some are stationar
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University of Rochester Medical Center